2 of Us Da Costa/ Yeadon
22 July 2008
I went to study music at Guildhall. I almost married a woman. She said after eight months, “You know what, you’re a gay man, you need to find someone.” Three months later I met Danny.
Neal was patient, but he did write several very passionate letters saying, “I’m here for you” and “I’m ready for you”. They were hand-written; I think I’ve still got them in a cupboard somewhere.
Harpsichordist Neal Peres Da Costa, 44, heads the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s early music faculty. Eighteen years ago he met his life and music partner, London-born cellist Daniel Yeadon, 41, and they performed together for a decade in the six-piece chamber music ensemble Florilegium, touring throughout Europe.
: My family came to Sydney the day I turned five. I was born in Bahrain, and my mum and dad are from Goa in India. I remember from age 12 I started to feel strange, a puberty thing, but I’m not sure that I knew I was gay at the time.
I came out only to university friends and some lecturers around 1983 when studying music at Sydney University, because there I met the first love of my life. But I had to stop it. I was brought up Catholic, and it was at the time the whole HIV-AIDS thing blew up. I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ So I broke up with this guy and that was really painful. Then for a few years I tried to be straight, which was laughable.
In 1987, at 23, I went to study music at Guildhall in London, and tried to go out with women for a bit. I almost married a woman. She actually said after eight months, “You know what, you’re a gay man, you need to find someone.” And three months later I met Danny.
It was June 1990, and I had a group giving a concert in the Lufthansa Baroque Festival at St James’s at Piccadilly. I was tuning the piano and the soprano turned up with this guy behind her. He had a beautiful face and blue eyes. We all ended up going to a café attached to the church, but he was at a distance. I kept thinking, “I’ve got to somehow make contact.” I asked the singer, “Who’s that guy?” And she said, “Oh, that’s Danny Yeadon, the cellist who’s just finished studying baroque cello at the Royal College.” But I didn’t have the courage to make contact; I went home and pined.
The next month we were both playing at a society wedding in Dorset. My heart leapt for joy. At the reception afterwards, he sidled up and we talked and talked. We discussed our plans for that summer, trying to suss out if our paths would cross. At one point I boldly asked him to hold a bowl of cherries while I went to get us more alcohol. I remember him smiling in a knowing sort of way, and there was a glint in his eye. He then tried to convince me to go skinny dipping with his friends at a nude beach. I couldn’t do it! I was too embarrassed.
A week later we went on a pub crawl, but at the end of the night he told me, “I have to tell you I’m with someone else, but I’m going to leave him.” We met up a couple of times over the next five months – we were good and didn’t get up to anything naughty – and then in December, Danny said, “I left him two weeks ago.” We got together pretty much that night.
I wasn’t openly gay before I came out to my parents – well, not in the sense openly gay means now – but Danny gave me the strength to come out, by writing to them. In 1991, the year I co-founded Florilegium, we went on a little holiday to Paris and I wrote this long letter to my parents explaining everything. Mum had an horrendous time accepting it at first, being Catholic, although Dad said, “Oh, I’ve always suspected and I haven’t got a problem with it.”
My younger sister, Gayle, was getting married at the time. Mum said she didn’t want Danny at the wedding, but would be happy for him to come to Sydney afterwards. Danny didn’t understand it, and I just had to put up with it. Danny accepted the decision graciously, but I was initially angry. He flew in the day after the wedding, and I picked him up from the airport. All of our extended relatives from all around the world were lining the lounge room and, when he walked in, everyone stopped. He’d had a number two haircut so he looked like some ridiculous spring chook. You could see them thinking, “Who is this man and what’s Neal doing cradle snatching?” Mum was very frosty with him at first. But after the first holiday she melted, and the next time he came home, she was making double beds up for us. She dealt with her feelings and did a lot of soul searching.
From the very start, working in a chamber music group together, we had to very quickly work out our ego problems. We’ve certainly both had them; I think mine might have been greater than Danny’s. I’m outwardly vivacious and gregarious, life of the party and high energy. I can go on working for long periods of time. Danny’s quite the opposite. He wants balance between work and play in his life; time to himself. Sometimes he’ll accuse me of working too hard, and I’ll accuse him of not working hard enough. A lot of time we get it right, but sometimes we don’t.
At my 40th birthday in 2004, we had a mini-commitment ceremony in Sydney, at which we decided to talk openly about our relationship in front of family and friends. To break the tension, Danny described me as like a hamster in a wheel. Everyone laughed, and it stuck. I get called Hamster these days. I have always described Danny as like a labrador luxuriating, only getting up to eat. Danny will often do a slow doggy panting noise when I call him Labrador. There is nothing kinky about this, I assure you.
The day I walked into St James’s Church, Neal was playing his fortepiano with his group, a very florid piece of musical repertoire, lots of sweeping arpeggios, and he was playing with lots of panache, rocking backwards and forwards on his stool, looking very at home. I thought, “I’d like to get to know this guy.” But I was already in a relationship, although I was beginning to realise it probably wouldn’t work out.
During that period, Neal was patient, but he did write several very passionate letters saying, “I’m here for you” and “I’m ready for you”. They were hand-written letters; I think I’ve still got them in a cupboard somewhere, a whole stash of them. I used them in my eventual permanent Australian residency application as proof of our relationship.
I think emotionally I was in quite a dark place when I met Neal, and a lot of that was to do with the divorce of my parents. I was carrying around a lot of sadness. Sometimes if Neal was being particularly strong about an opinion, I would react by going into a dark mood. And so there came a crisis point when I felt it was all too close to the bone, both the relationship and working with Neal. But I chose to get involved in counselling to get to know myself a little bit better, and that was the best thing I ever could have done.
There was an initial stage in my counselling when I did suggest breaking up, and I realise that was linked to classic fear of intimacy. Neal and I were of course both very upset and I’m glad we agreed to defer the decision until I had finished the counselling course.
Neal is incredibly stimulated by working long hours but sometimes he needs to take time off and switch off. I can sometimes get him to do that by cooking a really sumptuous meal. Otherwise, we both love water, so sometimes we’ll take ourselves off for a swim. After our first trip to Sydney, we went up to Katherine Gorge in the Northern Territory. We spent the day canoeing, then Neal cooked me barramundi in Foster’s. That’s one of my fondest memories.
We had our civil partnership in the UK last July. It felt incredibly poignant. A poem I love was read, which I’ve heard at many weddings, by the Lebanese-American theologian Kahlil Gibran:
“And stand together yet not too near together / For the pillars of the temple stand apart, / And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.”
It’s about keeping an individual take on everything, but also knowing how to go with the flow and to compromise. I think we achieved that in our relationship; we respect each other’s very different personalities, using them as a source of inspiration and strength without suffocating each other.